After deciding to pursue my dream and work in professional wrestling, through my chance meeting with Tommy Rich, I had begun working with Rod Destiny. Destiny was an independent wrestling promoter who immediately saw something in me… money. He knew he could make some cash off of me and the pursuit of my dream. After a falling out with one of his business partners, Rod offered me the opportunity to run shows with him, as a "silent-partner." If anyone asked, I was to say I had been in the business for two years and then I was taught the infamous "secret wrestler handshake."
One Saturday, Destiny called me and said he had a match in Cleveland but his normal video-camera person was unavailable to make the show. I volunteered to fill in. I filmed Destiny's match and a few others. Several days had passed when Rod invited me over to view my work and talk business. As we watched the tape, a bread truck pulled up and Rod said, "J.T.'s here."
The "J.T." that was being referred to was J.T. Lightning, the promoter of Cleveland All-Pro Wrestling. When J.T. walked through the door, Rod introduced us and J.T. said, "Brother, you look familiar. Do you work?" By "work" he meant "wrestle." In my head though, being so new to the business I contemplated responding, "Yes, I'm a security guard in a hotel." I'm glad I stayed quiet long enough for Rod to speak for me. He told Lightning that I was training and when J.T. brought up needing a new camera operator immediately, Destiny put me over as the perfect person for the job and I was hired. Every CAPW show I worked involved me getting there a couple hours earlier than most for set up with Lightning's children, five and six years old. My first backstage memory of CAPW involved J.T. and Tommy "Wildfire" Rich. The main event for that evening in 1997 was Wildfire vs. Lightning and when Rich arrived, he asked J.T. "Do you want the win, or do you want the color?" I was anxious to hear Lightning's response as I'm sure most people would like to be able to say they defeated a former NWA heavyweight champion and a current ECW star. But, J.T. replied, "I want you to bleed!" That answer, which by the crowd's enormous reaction upon seeing Wildfire bleed, was the right thing to do for business. It shaped the way I looked at the philosophy of a match. Wins and losses weren't nearly as important as I had originally thought.
Shortly after that night, at Universal Championship Wrestling's event, "Second To None" I debuted as UCW's heel Commissioner (a novel idea at the time). After a confrontation with the top babyface, Rod Destiny resulted in me being laid out, J.T. Lightning ran in to help me to the back. This ignited a two year long feud involving Destiny and Lightning with me as his manager, which really paved the way for my in-ring character. I learned a lot, both good and bad.
My outside-the ring work in production and promotions has been fairly successful but not always profitable. I think it's fair to say that anyone involved in pro wrestling can say the same thing. Sometimes profiting for another cause besides your own pocket is the most successful work anyone can do. In 2001, I promoted a benefit show for a three year old boy that was critically injured in an automobile accident. That same accident took the life of his mother. When I brought up the idea of running the event, and needing a roster of wrestlers who were willing to work for free that night, it was J.T. Lightning that told me he'd handle gathering a crew. The show brought in money for the child (who is doing well), helped his family and I told J.T. that I would forever be indebted to him.
On August 4, 2011, at the age of 41, James "J.T. Lightning" Haase passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Lightning was one of the first promoters to book current WWE Champion CM Punk, who noted, "He was always good to me. R.I.P. J.T. He was one of the first to book the Colt Cabana/CM Punk match." WWE’s United States Champion and Cleveland native, Dolph Ziggler offered the following, “Thanks to J.T., I got to sneak into Cleveland All-Pro shows (as a spectator) wearing a mask and no one asked questions.”
For nearly 20 years, J.T. Lightning and Cleveland All-Pro Wrestling were staples in the Ohio independent wrestling scene. J.T. is widely regarded as the "Godfather of Cleveland wrestling." Three neighboring promotions, Absolute Intense Wrestling, Mega Championship Wrestling and Firestorm Pro joined forces in an effort to put together the "J.T. Lightning Memorial Show" on September 25, 2011. The four disc set featuring wrestling legend Dominic Denucci, J.T. trainees- WWE Tough Enough's Matt "MDogg Matt Cross" Capiccioni, Josh Prohibition, Ring of Honor tag team Irish Airborne, PWO Champion Jason Bane, WrestleZone.com columnist Aaron "Bauer" Maguire, plus the first and only in-ring appearance of Mike and Hannah Haase -J.T.'s children and many more is now exclusively available to order at AIWrestling.com. All proceeds will benefit the Haase family.
J.T. Lightning will be remembered as a father, a wrestler, a promoter, a trainer, a mentor and a friend. His catch phrase "there's your boy" rings through my head to this day. I'm a better person, both in and out of the ring, for knowing him.
To view the DVD Intro- http://youtu.be/bn0M2uXZ9co
To view footage from the show- http://youtu.be/zy23X87gG1Y
Aaron Maguire is available on twitter @FairToAar.